Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kathleen Perry - Aspiranet Foster Care Social Worker, Greater Bay Area

"I encourage parents to be active in their children’s lives from the time their children are born. Provide gatherings for them at your home, know who they are spending time with, and attend their games/activities. Share family activities/outings on a regular basis."

What do you do as a Social Worker?
As a social worker I assist and guide the foster family in providing for the daily and ongoing needs of the foster child. Every foster child deserves a strong, healthy, positive environment to provide support for the child’s development of a solid sense of self, good personal and social skills, education to reach the level of his personal skills and a mentally and physically healthy life style. Children vary broadly in their personal needs and abilities, and both the social worker and the foster family must be sensitive, insightful, open and flexible.

Providing for the child’s lifelong needs requires the use of advocacy, intervention and resources, such as mental health and physical therapy, school and community services, sports and extracurricular activities and ongoing training. Including the child at every point of the process through one-on-one conversation, assessments and reports is vital. Even a very small child can express desires, likes and dislikes if allowed and encouraged to do so.

It is also the social worker’s responsibility to follow the case plan guidelines provided by the County Social Worker. This may include appropriate and frequent contact with the child’s birth family through phone calls and visitation as approved. Most importantly this includes developing and nurturing viable and healthy permanent, lifelong connections for the child.

What motivates you to do this work?
I am always motivated by the generosity and love of the foster parents and, even more, by the vibrant spirits of the foster children who, though often confused and in emotional pain, strive to move beyond their abuse and trauma.

What led you to choose this career path?
I chose this career path because of my parents who did not have much in the way of worldly goods, but who always welcomed family and friends into their home.

In what ways do you feel you’re making a difference in the lives of children?
I feel I make a difference in the lives of children by admitting and accepting my own strengths and limitations. I believe this allows me to accompany them on their journey.

What sort of challenges do you face in your work as a social worker, and how do you rise above/meet those challenges?
I face the challenge of not allowing myself to be overwhelmed by the seemingly insurmountable struggles of the children, of not losing hope for them. I do my best to help them take little steps, and allow them to use their own strength and make their own decisions.

What do you find to be rewarding about your work generally? Specifically in working for Aspiranet?
I find it extremely rewarding to work with the other social workers at Aspiranet who are so dedicated and have a positive outlook on life. The support I receive from supervisors and administrators reminds me that we have an entire team working for these children and that I am not alone in this. I have reliable resources to ask for guidance, and these same resources reassure me that what I am doing will eventually pay off for these children.

In what ways do you think social workers inspire community action? And you specifically in your own work?
I believe social workers definitely spark a sense of responsibility in the community. When I speak with school personnel, principals, teachers, office managers, coaches, after school mentors/tutors and counseling staff, I see that they are proud to share the work they have done with students in foster care. They realize that their efforts are appreciated and they feel renewed. Therapists express thanks for input I have given them about the children they counsel so that they may better serve them. Medical personnel, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech and vision therapists voluntarily share insights into the children and express interest in their future. Even camp counselors are made aware and are proud to provide positive experiences for the children. Although these are just individuals within communities, I do believe we heighten their awareness.

What “makes it all worth it” at the end of the day? Can you provide a specific story or situation which was particularly rewarding/memorable?
I have many wonderful stories, but the one I want to share is about a fifteen-year-old foster teen whose adoption failed after three years. This family is no longer in his life. He came to an Aspiranet foster family who welcomed him with open arms. He was angry and was not ready to trust anyone. He spoke very little and avoided interaction both within the foster family and at school. He refused therapy and refused to join sports groups or any other extracurricular activities. Gradually, he realized that the foster family was not giving up on him. He began to share small insights into his childhood with his foster parents and with me.

One day he told me that he had done something “unforgivable.” I waited, sitting next to him, since he would not allow me to look at him. After about 20 minutes he spoke. He stated that at 11 years of age he had hit his then foster mother and had felt as if he had wanted to kill her, even though she had always loved him and been kind to him. He had lived with her since he was 3 year old and called her “mom.” He said he did not know what was wrong with himself and believed that as people got to know him they would hate him and he would have to leave.

With strong, steady, consistent love and nourishment from his foster parents, he began therapy and received medication for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. He is now almost 17 and is solidly connect with his foster family, who have expressed their desire to have a lifelong connection with him. He is happy, expressive and affectionate. He has good friends and is active in sports. He visits with his previous foster mother, “mom” at least twice a week on weekends. They have also expressed a lifelong commitment to each other.

In what ways do you think social workers have helped shape the quality of American life?
I believe the emphasis on a healthy, interactive, positive parenting structure has impacted many lives. Social workers tell parents to talk with their children, listen to them, tell them what is expected of them, and know and appreciate them for the individual people they are. I encourage parents to be active in their children’s lives from the time their children are born. Provide gatherings for them at your home, know who they are spending time with, and attend their games/activities. Share family activities/outings on a regular basis.

I believe social workers have encouraged family unity through which each family member is believed to be and is treated as a vital part of the family. That includes parents taking time to nourish themselves and each other.

What would you like to tell the general public about your work?
As with advice to parents, social workers must allow themselves to be nourished daily by family and friends. I love my work. Although it is demanding and sometimes discouraging and painful, it energizes me to know that I am helping children become adults who know that they are loveable and valuable. When I see one child smile with pride because he knows he is good and loved, then for that alone, my work is complete.

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